Starz CEO on 'American Gods' Controversy and Expanding the 'Outlander' Franchise

Jeffrey Hirsch says his premium cable network isn't trying to compete with the likes of HBO or Netflix.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Jeffrey Hirsch

Starz president and CEO Jeffrey Hirsch wants the industry to consider the pay cable network a basic streamer.

The former COO used his time Tuesday afternoon at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour to declare that Starz is not looking to compete with streamers like Netflix but rather be complementary to them.

"The streaming wars continue to make headlines, with each new entrant looking to replace what is traditionally known as basic television and to become the primary service in the home. That is not the Starz strategy," Hirsch told reporters. "We're not looking to compete with these broad content services. Instead, we're positioned to be a complementary service and strategic partner with them."

The executive, who was promoted in September to the top job at the Lionsgate-backed cabler, said Starz's library of scripted originals and rights to blockbuster films is a way to "augment" the cable network's offerings and "add value for our shared subscribers."

"Starz continues to be an ideal add-on for those services [Amazon, Apple, Hulu, HBO Max, etc.] and that they are now considered to be called basic streaming," Hirsch said, citing a deal with Disney+ in which the streamer ran ads for Starz in a bid to help get its movies back once those deals with the cabler expire. He noted that Starz will continue to be sold as an add-on to those streaming services.

Hirsch also singled out the strength of Starz's domestic OTT growth, which he said continues to grow every year. The exe said the service posted a 70 percent year-over-year growth and ended the last quarter with 5.6 million subscribers.

Here are other key takeaways from Hirsch's time before the press:

American Gods Drama

The first question Hirsch fielded was about former American Gods star Orlando Jones' comments in which he said that he was fired from the troubled Neil Gaiman drama because new showrunner Chic Eglee thought his character was sending "the wrong message for black America." Hirsch said the decision was purely a creative one because the character is not in that portion of Gaiman's sprawling book that serves as the show's source material. "Mr. Nancy does not have a role in the story in season three, as in the book," Hirsch said, repeatedly stressing the show's diverse cast. It's worth noting that Eglee is the fourth showrunner in three seasons of American Gods and that last season Jones helped step in to keep the show on track after the show's third showrunner was sidelined.

Outlander Spinoffs

Sony-produced Outlander remains a cult favorite and, along with Power, a key cornerstone of Starz's creative push to be a hub for premium programming for women and African-Americans, and Hirsch would like to also expand the world of the drama based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. "There is a lot of opportunity in the Outlander universe for story extensions, spins or sequels," he said. "We're working with Sony. Hopefully we'll find something that's great and continue to tell that story."

Power Spinoffs

After announcing Method Mad would star alongside Mary J. Blidge in Starz's Power spinoff, Hirsch said he has at least three more offshoots of the cabler's most-watched show in mind. "Prequels, sequels, spinoffs — there are a lot of rich characters we can pull out," he said. "I've seen pitches for three of them and they're really good."

John Wick Update

The John Wick spinoff The Continental is still "moving along," Hirsch said. He noted that the plan for the project is to possibly air it after the fourth film in the Keanu Reeves-led franchise is released. The script, meanwhile, remains in development and execs at Starz are "trying to get it in the right place so it doesn't interfere with the motion picture side of the house," the exec said.

Weeds Sequel Still Burning

With former star Mary-Louise Parker attached to a Weeds follow-up script, Hirsch said he remains excited about exploring the changes in the world of cannabis a decade after Jenji Kohan's Showtime comedy wrapped its run. He reiterated that Kohan is no longer involved — the prolific writer-producer exited her Lionsgate TV overall deal years ago for a lucrative pact at Netflix — but that Lionsgate has had conversations with the Orange Is the New Black creator. As for the result of those talks and if Kohan has blessed the follow-up to her award-winning comedy, that remains a mystery.  

Making a Comedy Push

Hirsch is currently working on bringing comedy back to Starz to help offset some of the heavier nature of its drama slate. The exec shared that he has the Sharon Horgan comedy Shining Vale — which it picked up after Showtime's pass — and is working on the pilot Run the World, for which he has high hopes. "They're the first two comedies to start to add back to the network. We will bring comedies back on to the network," he said.